Sovereign Authority and the Limits of Constitutional Democracy: The Case of Indigenous Peoples in Canada


  • Trevor Allen Purvis Carleton University


Indigenous peoples, liberalism, Canada, constitutional democracy, sovereignty, popular sovereignty, sovereign violence, Pueblos indígenas, liberalismo, Canadá, democracia constitucional, soberanía, soberanía popular, violencia soberana


The victory of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the Canadian federal election of 2015 brought with it hopes for meaningful change in the relationship between indigenous peoples and settler-Canadian society, with “reconciliation” a prominent feature of the new government’s discourse. But long on symbolism, the new government’s efforts have been markedly short on substance, and all good intentions seem unlikely to dislodge the more stubborn problems underpinning the relationship between indigenous peoples and the settler state that claims sovereignty over their lives. While many of the obstacles to be confronted involve familiar problems confronting institutional reform, deeper, more substantive barriers lie in the character of modern nation-formation and state sovereignty, and in contradictions that lie at the very heart of liberal constitutional democracies.

La victoria del partido liberal de Justin Trudeau en las elecciones de Canadá de 2015 trajo consigo esperanzas de un cambio significativo en la relación entre los pueblos indígenas y la sociedad canadiense–colona, con la “reconciliación” como tema destacado del discurso del nuevo gobierno. Pero, si bien sobrado de simbolismo, los esfuerzos del nuevo gobierno se han quedado cortos en sustancia; es poco probable que las buenas intenciones desalojen los problemas que subyacen a la relación entre los indígenas y el estado colono que reivindica la soberanía sobre sus vidas. Aunque muchos de los obstáculos se refieren a problemas familiares frente a reformas institucionales, hay barreras más sustanciales relativas al carácter de la formación de la nación moderna y a la soberanía estatal, y a las contradicciones inherentes a las democracias constitucionales liberales.

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Author Biography

Trevor Allen Purvis, Carleton University

Assistant Professor

Department of Law and Legal Studies




How to Cite

Purvis, T. A. (2018) “Sovereign Authority and the Limits of Constitutional Democracy: The Case of Indigenous Peoples in Canada”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 10(1), pp. 58–87. Available at: (Accessed: 19 August 2022).